Succeeding in a large organisation that doesn’t (yet) have agile or open management

It’s not often we get to talk about our work in big corporates. They’re so sensitive about sharing, and so bound in controls. So I’m pleased to share a report with you, with permission but anonymised. I would love to give them credit for the great advances they are making, but sadly we can’t identify them.

After our webinar Open Management: From Theory to Practical [in Vietnamese] Dr Cherry Vu had a question from a unit head: “What can I do if I’m in a large system that doesn’t have agile or open management?”

Perfectly timed, we received an email the day after from a Branch Director of a major bank [In the bank’s parlance, a “branch” is a geographic region with dozens of locations, run as a fairly independent business unit]. Fortunately, this client community (“Teal Tribe”) member helped us to answer the above question fully. It is fantastic what she and her people have achieved in less than a year. We asked permission to share with the community, translated from Vietnamese, hoping you find it helpful.

(Here is Cherry talking to another of their branches and its clients)

After attending the coaching course “Training for agile (small-a) leaders and managers” by Dr Cherry Vu, starting in November 2021, there are three main concepts I have applied to my management work at my branch: 

  1. Transform myself to be closer to the Servant Manager model [At Teal Unicorn, we say “servant manager” not “servant leader” to reflect more accurately the concept]:
    • Empower, Believe , Inspire
    • Have a vision: raise your expectations a little when setting your goals
    • Personal connections with groups;
    • Enthusiasm: launch of activities;
    • Generosity: working hard, being willing to help others.
  2. Streamline the workflow for happier employees and happier customers:
    • Reducing low-value tasks like eliminating manual reports and reducing meetings.
    • Avoiding training on weekends and holidays. [Vietnamese work culture normalises training in personal time not work time]
    • Changing the way performance is measured and delivered: from individual targets to shared organisational goals.
    • Motivating: people are empowered, encouraged to try new ways of doing things, recognised and encouraged in a timely manner.
  3. Train in Open and agile Management thinking to improve working methods and build new culture, form new behaviours into new work habits.

 

Some of the new working methods I have implemented effectively in the branch:

  1. We did an anonymous survey to understand the existing problems in the organisation. The result was: we identified many reports and tasks that bring little value or they reduce labour productivity. So we found solutions to streamline workflow to increase productivity.

I also asked: “Tell me 3 things you want me to do more of and 3 things you wish me to do less of”. After receiving the survey results, I worked on each commented issue, reducing the shouldn’ts and doing more shoulds.

We surveyed 12 employee satisfaction questions to understand employees’ requirements, what they need, and to understand the level of engagement of employees, to find ways to increase their satisfaction at work.

  1. Changes in the way of delivering planning targets for 2022:

The branch applies the agile principles to distribute the commitment, so each unit registers themselves for what they can be able to achieve depending on what they are strong in. By doing so we exploit potential advantages of each unit instead of putting pressure on them. 

In the process of implementing business targets, the branch breaks down the objectives, adhering to guidelines and motivation programs at each stage. This helps to track, to monitor results, to support departments in a timely manner. Simultaneously we adjust it if the target is no longer suitable.

  1. Changing the way motivational incentives are awarded in the branch:

Changed from rewarding individuals to rewarding teams. This creates connections between units, enhances teamwork, and unites all for a common goal. 

  1. Engaged Dr Cherry Vu to train on “agile Management” and “Coaching agility” for the management team in the branch so we become better managers who can manage in the new ways. 
  2. Established agile teams to improve and promote sales, and increase labour productivity. For the teams to work effectively, we measure Shu-Ha-Ri skills to know the necessary skills of a team, and know what level each person is at. 

They have a stand up meeting every day for 15 minutes in the morning. This meeting is suitable for teams under 10 members. Individually and collectively they answer only 3 questions:

    • What did you accomplish yesterday?
    • What will you accomplish today?
    • Do you need any support?

This stand-up meeting helps to improve employee engagement. They propose their own work plan and actively implement it to reach the goal. As well, it also helps the team members to support, and share the work with each other.

When conducting this meeting, managers – instead of requiring staff to do reporting – can capture the results, as well as the implementation plan of each employee for timely encouragement, encouragement, or support if needed. Although employees don’t get much pressure from management, peer pressure makes employees feel self-sufficient and want to do better.

We make work visible with Kanban to ensure transparent workflow and information flow, to increase focus and coordination to accomplish better work.

We use Lean Coffee meetings. This technique is effective in brainstorming. We have applied it regularly to find the best solution to improve the work more effectively.

 

The difficulties we encountered:

  1. Inside the branch: Good culture can’t change quickly in a day. We’ve had to be very patient to change the ways of our work in a small unit and the whole branch. To do this takes patience with people, to seek consensus and follow a new way of thinking.
  2. System wide: Some of the methods taught by Dr Vu cannot be implemented yet due to regulations – the process of the system cannot be changed immediately. For example, the system still has some worthless reports, still manual at the request of superior authority, or outdated KPIs: vertical integration up [to executive] and down [to individuals].

We can only operate flexibly within the scope of the branch, we need to have time for the system to gradually improve. [Actually, big systems always have problems, we can’t just wait until the system is perfect to start changing. If you start from where you are, improve the way you manage and work, you can still produce better results – Dr Cherry Vu]

 

Results after 6 months of implementation of New Working Methods, Open Thinking and Agile management:

  1. Labour productivity at the branch has improved tremendously:
    • From a branch that has always been in the bottom of the whole bank in terms of labour productivity in recent years, within 6 months we have risen to the Top 10 branches, leading system-wide and well rewarded;
    • Improved personnel management quality, especially the key leadership team at the branch has been reorganised in a more neat and efficient manner.
  2. 110% of [a demanding] annual sales quota in 5 months.  
  3. Better culture, people are more creative and agile.

Many programs have been launched at the branch together with the new ways:

  • The “Challenge Your Leadership” contest. We received a lot of suggestions that can be applied right away to the branch’s operational practice.
  • The writing competition “Workday Diary” was also initiated from an idea in the above competition, with the hope that all units in the branch could better understand each other’s work, to share and bond with each other. [This is such a cool idea]
  • A research and development team has been established to automate the many manual tasks in the branch. This is an agile self-governing team, members participate on a voluntary basis. The Board of Directors supports resources and periodically organises “Day of Ideas” to recognize and honour individuals who made timely contributions. 

 

These are the lessons I’ve learned, as a leader:

  • You need trust to empower your people.
  • Let the working people design their own work.
  • Make the organisation’s problems transparent so that everyone can understand, and participate in sharing the solutions.
  • Be kind to people, they will do their best for the organisation and for you.
  • Be brave to try new ways of working and managing, you will be surprised at the results.